Mariners set rotation … and ponder roster changes

Hisashi Iwakuma will start Sunday’s game against the Rangers in his first chance as part of the Mariners’ regular rotation.

We’re still in All-Star break mode on Wednesday, but a little interesting news out of the Mariners today in regard to their rotation for the weekend ahead.

With Felix Hernandez not throwing in Tuesday’s All-Star Game — which was certainly fine with the Mariners after he’d tossed 114 pitches in Sunday’s game against the A’s — Felix will come back Saturday at Safeco Field and face Yu Darvish of the Rangers in an All-Star battle of their own.

As manager Eric Wedge indicated last weekend, Kevin Millwood will get the start Friday in the series opener against the Rangers. Millwood is 1-0  with a 1.06 ERA (2 runs in 17 innings) in three starts against his former Texas team this year, so that should be a good matchup as well against Derek Holland.

But the biggest surprise is that Hisashi Iwakuma will start Sunday in the series finale against the Rangers’ Matt Harrison. We knew Iwakuma was in the rotation now that Hector Noesi has been sent down, but the assumption was he’d go Monday and that Jason Vargas would pitch one of the first three games after the break.

Instead, Vargas will throw Monday when the Mariners open a seven-game road trip in Kansas City. That’s not a big change, just a one day difference for Vargas, but not sure the thinking there. Maybe they just wanted to give Vargas a little longer breather — he’ll be pitching on eight day’s rest. Or maybe they didn’t want to make Iwakuma go that much longer between his last start, which was July 2. Or maybe a little of both.

We should be able to learn more Thursday when the Mariners hold a workout at Safeco Field and Wedge will be around to answer questions.

The other pending rotation question is who will throw Tuesday in Kansas City. As of now, that is being listed as TBA. Wedge doesn’t expect Erasmo Ramirez to be ready to come off the DL by then, given he’s just begun throwing as he returns from a sore elbow, so a roster move is expected.

I’ve said all along it seems to make sense to bring Blake Beavan back up for that start. He’s made five starts since getting sent down and is 3-0 with a 3.19 ERA in Tacoma. He’s scheduled to start Thursday for the Rainiers, which would put him right in line to make his next start that following Tuesday in K.C. on his normal fifth day. But the Mariners don’t need to make that decision yet, so we’ll see.

There’s also some expectation of roster moves among position players after a frustrated Wedge spoke of reevaluating things over the All-Star break and possibly making changes with some of the struggling young hitters. Frankly, I don’t expect a lot of change, as the reality is there aren’t a ton of red-hot prospects in Tacoma awaiting a call.

Mike Carp is a logical replacement at first base if the Mariners decide to give Justin Smoak some time in Triple-A to regain his timing and confidence, but that might be pushing it a little on Carp’s rehab stint. Carp is showing signs of life his last two games, however. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a home run in Tacoma’s last game Sunday in Salt Lake City.

Then with the Triple-A All-Star break happening as well, Carp went to Single-A High Desert on Monday and went 4-for-5 with a double and three RBIs. It’ll be interesting to see if the Mariners think he’s ready for a recall.

Otherwise, I don’t see a ton of options. Maybe they bring Alex Liddi back up, or veteran infielder Luis Rodriguez. The Rainiers hitter having the best first half is Luis Jimenez, the big DH. But at 30 years of age, he’s been a Minor League journeyman his entire career and it seems unlikely they’d bring him up and take at-bats away from Jesus Montero at DH at this point.

My hunch is they’ll let the struggling youngsters like Smoak, Montero and Dustin Ackley see if the four-day All-Star break can serve as a nice time to regroup and come back strong, especially with the weather finally heating up at Safeco Field. It’d be ironic to send guys down to Tacoma right when the best part of the season to hit at Safeco has arrived.

But hey, it’s a tough business and Smoak and Ackley haven’t taken advantage of a lot of opportunies so far, so whatever decisions are made they’ll just have to make the most of them. But if I’m the Mariners decision makers, I’d want to see how that key core group of youngsters fares now in warmer weather as part of my evaluation both on their own futures and on whether it would be smart to move the fences in at Safeco this offseason.


My guess is the team doesn’t want Vargas pitching against the Rangers in hopes of keeping his trade value high.

I know ackley is struggling rt now and they talk about ryan’s defense well ackley’s defense is just as good he’s #2 in the league and him and Ryan make up the best middle infield in all of baseball but no one ever talks about ackley’s defense

Guess you were right, they didn’t send anyone down. True, as the summer months heat up Safeco, perhaps the bats will awaken. But still, the bats need to be awake throughout the entire season for a player to prove their worth in the bigs. I hope they don’t move in the fences.

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